The privileged position of founders and Chief Executives has almost become a reserve of degree and MBA holders, but a few like Chief Razaq Akanni Okoya have proven with their stories that grit, hardwork and initiative can make a man successful in business, even without executive degrees.
Razaq Akanni Okoya was born on January 12, 1940, to Tiamiyu Ayinde and Alhaja Idiatu Okoya. Despite being born in Lagos state, he did not start schooling on time.
Razaq attended Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, Oke-Popo, Lagos, and this ended up providing his only formal education.
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Lawyer, teacher or businessman?
With a tailor for a father, Razaq spent most of his after-school hours learning the trade. He would run errands for his father, helping him get supplies and mending some clothes. They made on-demand clothing, bicycle seat covers and other clothing accessories for sale.
With this apprentice lifestyle, Razaq became an expert tailor before he finished his primary education. While many thought that Razaq chose to become a tailor because his father was one, the industrialist explained later in an interview that the choice came after much thought and considerations.
He had considered becoming a lawyer or a teacher, but also wanted to become wealthy. He also observed the society around him and saw that some of the wealthiest people were businessmen.
“While in school, I could see my teacher in worn out and often shabby clothes and at the same time, I could see well-dressed businessmen at Dosunmu Street, the then heart of business in Lagos. My father was a very good tailor with a brand new car, a Chrysler for that matter, five houses and a lot of apprentices, which could be an inspiration for a young man,” he recalled.
Following his father out on visits to clients in Ikoyi, he had also met the likes of Chief Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu, the father of Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, and other wealthy businessmen clients.
He decided then that he wanted to become a businessman. He was already 17 years old before he finished primary school, and did not want to waste any more time on formal education.
At 17, an age where he could hardly be called a business ‘man’, Razaq had saved up £20 (twenty pounds) from mending shirts and trousers in his father’s shop and he decided to start a small scale trading business.
Very few traders had access to manufacturers at this time and so they had to go through middlemen, but Razaq stumbled upon a product catalogue of a manufacturer based in Japan that produced tailoring materials such as buttons, ribbons, zip fasteners, etc and decided to place a direct order. When he totaled the figures, he discovered that it would cost him £70, meaning that he needed an additional £50.
With his father’s permission, his mother loaned him the amount interest-free and he placed the order. The products barely landed before they were sold out, as it did not take traders much time to realise that they were of better quality than the ones already in the market.
The quick turnovers gave Razaq the financing he needed to expand the business and increase the orders. With lots of profits coming in, he completed his first house at Surulere by the age of 19, and by the age of 21, he had three more houses in the same location.
Turning his wife’s fancy into a business
Being relatively comfortable, Razaq got married quite early. His first wife, Kuburat Okoya, like many other women, had an unusual fancy for jewellery and spent quite a lot of money purchasing them.
At this time, Razaq was considering going into manufacturing and reasoned that if he could produce jewellery with the raw materials available in Nigeria, there was a ready market for it since the demand was high.
On one of his trips out of the country, he imported some jewellery manufacturing machines along with some experts and started manufacturing the jewellery at ridiculously low costs. This marked the birth of the Jewellery Manufacturing Arm of Eleganza Group.
Expectedly, the products all sold out and the business broke even very early. The young company practically found itself choked with demand for its products and this set it firmly on its feet.
Razaq then decided to venture into shoe manufacturing, but started out by paying factories in Italy to produce the shoes so that he could import the finished products. This moved on smoothly for a while until the company defaulted on one of his orders, using his advance payment to settle other bills instead.
Furious over this disappointment, he imported the necessary machines and brought in experts to train his workers; thus bringing about the Shoe Manufacturing arm of the group.
The company has grown over the years and now employs thousands of Nigerians across its factories where it manufactures coolers, chairs, soaps, weave-on for ladies, cutlery, electric fans, plastics, etc.
The Eleganza group is now headed by his youngest wife, Mrs Shade Okoya as Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer while he is Chairman of the group.
RAO Property Investment Company
One of Razaq’s motivation for going into business was that he desired to be a landlord. He recalled in an interview that he noticed that most business people at the time were landlords, but “if you found a man wearing a suit and tie living in those areas in those days, he must have rented an apartment there.”
This wish always remained with him, and as soon as he had sufficient money to, he delved into real estate. By age 34, he acquired four hectares of land on Ikoyi Crescent, and by 40 years, he had two high-rise buildings standing in his name.
Years after, he set up the RAO Property Investment Company as the vehicle to drive his real estate dreams. A lover of good houses, Razaq saw this as an opportunity to provide good housing for people.
The company constructed and maintains the Oluwa Ni Shola Estate at Lekki-Ajah Expressway, which is sometimes described as an expatriates’ estate because of the high number of expatriates living there.
The luxurious estate is well equipped with uninterrupted power and water supply, marble floors, central air-conditioning, sauna, lush gardens, billiard room, tennis court, swimming pools, expensive sculptures and others, typically mirroring the type of life Okoya always dreamt of.
Through this company, he has also invested in several properties around Lagos.
Chief Razaq Akanni Okoya has earned and received several awards and recognitions over the years. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of Business Entrepreneur by ThisDay Newspapers, an award which was presented to Okoya by Bill Clinton, Former President of United States of America.
He was awarded the Golden Award for Quality by the Nigerian Institute of Standards, and also holds the Commander of the Order of Niger (CON) honour from the Federal Government of Nigeria.
He is said to be one of Nigeria’s richest, though his net worth cannot be confirmed since his companies are not listed on the Stock Exchange.
In a recent interview, he was asked his thoughts on formal education, having achieved so much with only his primary education and he said, “I have nothing against education. But at times, education gives people false confidence. It makes people relax, trusting in the power of their certificates rather than in working hard. I knew I wanted to be rich, and I knew I had to work very hard”
In January 2020, the industrialist turned 80 amid much fanfare. He had this to say; “My prayer is to enjoy good health, long life and leave the legacy of my industry behind as I want Eleganza to outlive me and continue with my philosophy of philanthropy.”
Meet Adebayo Ogunlesi, Nigeria’s investment banker shaking up Wall Street
Though his name does not ring a bell like Aliko Dangote, Otedola and Mike Adenuga, Ogunlesi is equally a “billionaire” in his own right.
Some refer to him as a “silent billionaire”, and this is not a wrong statement about the man who has stakes in a number of airports around the world, including Gatwick Airport, the second-busiest airport by total passenger traffic in the UK and the ninth-busiest in Europe.
Adebayo Ogunlesi, a Nigerian who started out as a lawyer and later an investment banker, has spread his wings around the globe and is now currently the Chairman and Managing Partner at the private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). Though his name does not ring a bell like Aliko Dangote, Otedola and Mike Adenuga, Ogunlesi is equally a billionaire in his own right.
Adebayo hails from Makun, Sagamu, Ogun State, and was born on the 20th of December 1953 to the family of Dr Theophilus O. Ogunlesi, who later became Nigeria’s first Professor of Medicine in Ibadan.
He had his primary education there in Sagamu and then attended the prestigious King’s College, Lagos before travelling to England where he bagged a B.A. with first-class honours in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.
He went on to pursue two degrees concurrently at Harvard, and in 1979, received a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.
He worked as a law clerk to Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court from 1980 to 1981, and as an attorney at Cravath, Swaine & Moore – a law firm in New York City till 1983.
Armed with his MBA, Adebayo made the switch to investment banking when he joined First Boston Investment Bank as an advisor on a Nigerian gas project in 1983. He also worked with the Project Finance Group, as a financial advisor to several clients on the transactions of North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Other places Adebayo worked include the Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) (earlier known as Global Energy Group) where he advised clients on strategic transactions and financing for some years, before becoming the Global Head of CSFB’s Investment Banking Division. He was appointed member of the Credit Suisse Executive Board and Management Committee in 2002, and became the Executive Vice Chairman and Chief Client Officer of CSFB between 2004 and 2006.
While at the CSFB, he was also lecturing at Harvard Law School and Yale School of Management.
He was appointed a member of the Board of Directors of Goldman Sachs in October 2012 and became Lead Director on the 24th of July, 2014.
Ogunlesi, the investor
In July 2006, he founded a private equity firm Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) in New York City, with CSFB and General Electric as the first investors; and assumed the role of Chairman and Managing Partner. In the same year, GIP bought London City Airport an international airport located in the Royal Docks in the London Borough of Newham in the City of London. GIP later sold off the airport after a decade.
Three years later in 2009, GIP invested £1.455 billion to acquire the majority share in London Gatwick Airport, a major international airport near Crawley, Sussex, England. Another three years after in 2012, GIP bought Edinburgh Airport, said to be the busiest airport in Scotland in 2019, handling over 14.7 million passengers.
GIP also bought Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori in February 2018.
Some other GIP Investments In the Transport Sector include Terminal Investment Limited, Port of Melbourne; Pacific National; Italo; Access Midstream Partners; Biffa Group Limited; Port of Brisbane; Great Yarmouth Port Company.
GIP also had stakes in infrastructure assets around the world, with selected equity and debt investments in several sectors. The company manages a portfolio of combined annual revenue greater than $46 billion, and investments of over $51 billion for its investors.
The company is an infrastructure investment fund that makes both equity and selected debt investments. It has investments in high-quality infrastructure assets in the energy, transport, water and waste sectors.
In the energy sector, Gip has investments in Guacolda Energia, Freeport LNG, CPV, Saeta Yield/Bow Power, Hess Infrastructure Partners, Vena Energy, Naturgy Energy Group and several others.
Ogunlesi is now a Member, Board of Dean’s Advisors at the Harvard Business School; Member, Leadership Council of New York at Harvard Law School; and Member, Global Advisory Council at Harvard University.
He is also a Member, Board of Directors of the Partnership for New York City Fund; National Board of Directors NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Board of Trustees NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital; and the King’s College Old Boys Association.
He is a member of the District of Columbia Bar Association. He taught a course on transnational investment projects in emerging countries, as a lecturer at Harvard Law School and the Yale School of Management, while also working at Credit Suisse First Boston.
In October 2012, Ogunlesi was appointed to the Board of Directors at Goldman Sachs and became Lead Director in 2014. There is no confirmed source of his net worth, but Wallmine estimates that Ogunlesi is worth at least $22.5 million dollars and owns at least 66,677 units of Goldman Sachs stock as of 7 May 2020.
In December 2016, Ogunlesi was named among business leaders that would be part of Donald Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, but the forum was disbanded 8 months later.
Ogunlesi was given The Award of Excellence by The International Center in New York, and in 2019 was cited as one of the Top 100 most influential Africans by New African magazine. He is still actively engaged in several volunteer works across Africa.
Atsu Davoh is building ways for Africans to easily acquire and spend cryptocurrency
Atsu Davoh has gone from failed projects to running one of Ghana’s most innovative startups.
In recent times, the tech space in Africa has experienced immense growth, with the introduction of several key players and disruptors across various sectors. One sector that is also rising is the cryptocurrency space with Africa experiencing greater crypto ownership and trade volume.
The number of Bitcoins processed on a single day reached its highest value at the beginning of 2021, as more people displayed interest in the cryptocurrency. Due to its fast adoption, more fintech players have created platforms that have made trading with cryptocurrency easier. One of such players is Atsu Davoh who calls himself the “product guy.”
Atsu Davoh dropped out of college (Carleton College) in the United States and moved back to Ghana to help innovate on Africa’s financial infrastructure. Atsu first discovered Bitcoin in 2017 during the first boom when it became mainstream. Before then, he and his co-founder Samuel Baohen had been involved in many failed projects.
He developed a USSD system where people could buy bitcoin through their phone numbers, like tying crypto to phone numbers in a native way. This was one of the first iterations of Bitsika.
Atsu was invited to Join Binance Labs Incubator by Yele Bademosi where he got $150,000 after graduating from the incubator. Bitsika went on to raise around $900,000 from investors. This brought the total seed raised to $1,050,000.
This USSD system worked in Ghana but didn’t work in Nigeria. Atsu and his team then pivoted the platform to a donation crowdfunding platform, which allowed people living in other countries to send donations to African nationals in need of the funds before finally building it into a cross-border crypto remittance platform.
Bitsika users can deposit and remit money across multiple currencies using the app, with all monies deposited in Bitsika stored in USD credits or stable-coin.
Bitsika has over 50,000+ downloads on Playstore and processed nearly $40 million in 2020 with $18,872,474 in deposits, $17,890,807 in payouts (withdrawals), and $3,189,834 in internal peer-to-peer transfers.
Despite a few unfavourable regulations surrounding cryptocurrency in Africa, the market has shown no signs of slowing down as more people are building products that will make trading seamless.
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